Why isn’t she wearing gloves? This was the question that melted my brain on a recent evening visit to the local grocery store. I was there for the same reasons most everyone is waiting in Disneyland-length lines to gain access to their local market: In this time of coronavirus, I needed potato chips for both stress eating and as an alternative means of wiping my ass.
Standing there, waiting for the very kind woman who was ringing up my kettle chips, a pint of chocolate ice cream and one bunch of kale — in case the potato chips are too sharp — I couldn’t help but wonder what the current recommendation is with regard to wearing gloves in this corona climate.
Me too. My mom says I should wear coronavirus gloves, but my friends on Fortnite seem to think otherwise. Why is everything so confusing right now?
The novel coronavirus hysteria aside, we live in the era of misinformation. In 2018, a team of MIT researchers wanted to find out why misinformation spreads like wildfire on Twitter. To do so they, “examined how likely a piece of news was to create a ‘cascade’ of retweets on the social networking platform.” They found that a fake news story was 70 percent more likely to be retweeted. “The emotional response a tweet generated also played a role in user engagement,” reports Futurism. “Fake news generated replies showing fear, disgust and surprise. True news inspired anticipation, sadness, joy and trust. These emotions could play a role in a person’s decision to retweet a piece of news.”
The same is even more true now with any coronavirus related news. Mother Jones recently reported that fear around the coronavirus is “blowing misinformation out to new levels, because of something of a perfect storm: More people are online than ever before, looking for information on exactly the same thing, and lacking clear authoritative sources.”
Great. So what should I believe about the efficacy of gloves in a coronavirus outbreak?
This is a great question, with a somewhat complicated answer. There are several reports that indicate that wearing gloves to protect yourself from contracting the novel coronavirus is going hurt rather than help. “This isn’t something the general public would be wearing,” Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told Today. “I don’t think they’re going to do anything but give people a false sense of security, waste time and create more demand for something that’s unnecessary, just like masks.” She explains that, because latex gloves aren’t built to be durable, they rip easily, which renders them useless for conducting daily tasks like going to the grocery store or checking your mailbox.
Another reason disposable latex gloves aren’t recommended is because they may trick you into thinking you’re invincible while you’re wearing them. “Gloves are never a substitute for proper handwashing; in fact, wearing gloves sometimes gives workers a false sense of security and results in workers not washing hands at all before donning gloves,” Lucia Anelich, a Pretoria-based microbiologist and food safety expert, told TimesLIVE. “The glove is an extension of one’s hand and must be treated as such, which is unfortunately not always the case. So if there is any doubt as to whether the person would follow proper hygienic procedures when wearing gloves, then it’s best to avoid them and rather entrench the principle and practice of proper handwashing.”
That doesn’t seem all that complicated. So you’re saying gloves won’t help ward off COVID-19, right?
Let me finish. Yes, the majority of experts recommend that wearing gloves isn’t an alternative to washing your hands incessantly and making sure you don’t touch your face. But here’s where it gets complicated. Last Friday, the Washington Post reported that a 57-year-old Italian doctor who had tested positive for the coronavirus recently died after having to treat patients without gloves.
Wait, what? So I do need gloves?
Like I said, it’s complicated. As we currently understand it, the coronavirus is “stable for several hours to days in aerosols and on surfaces,” according to a report from the National Health Institute. “The scientists found that severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) was detectable in aerosols for up to three hours, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel,” per the report. This means that, yes, gloves could protect you from contracting the virus if you touched a contaminated surface.
To that end, according to a Business Insider article, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends “wearing a pair of disposable latex gloves to clean and disinfect all ‘high-touch areas’ in your home, from faucets to smartphones regularly.” “These will protect your hands from coming in contact with germs while you clean,” reports Business Insider. “When you’re done cleaning and disinfecting your space, remove the gloves, toss them in the garbage and then wash your hands.”
But cleaning your house is one thing — using disposable gloves when you go to the grocery store is quite another. When you consider that, on average, humans touch their faces 20 times every hour, the highly contaminated grocery store gloves could just as easily be your downfall, even more so if you don’t remember to remove and dispose of your gloves the correct way every time you use them.
More importantly, buying up the already limited supply of latex gloves right now is selfish. In the same Today article, both Adajla and Aline Holmes, a registered nurse based in New Jersey who has worked with hospitals and health-care providers during infectious disease outbreaks, “said that if people stock up on gloves, that could lead to shortages for health-care professionals and those who actually need the supplies. Similar shortages already exist with masks, hand sanitizer and some cleaning products.”
Which means if doctors and nurses can’t get access to gloves and as such are dying in the line of fire, you could be stuck using potato chips to wipe your ass for a very, very long time. “The bottom line is, if you cannot protect health-care workers and they get sick, the whole system goes down,” Nicole Lurie, a former assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the Department of Health and Human Services during the Obama administration told the Washington Post. “The priority to maintain public health is to protect health-care workers.”
What you’re saying, then, is that my mom is right but so are my Fortnite friends?
That’s exactly what I’m saying. If used ultra-vigilantly, gloves will protect you from contracting the coronavirus from contaminated surfaces — likely every single shelf at the grocery store — but by hoarding them, you could put the lives of several thousands of people, including the doctors and nurses we all need to keep humanity alive, at risk.